Chapter Fourteen: The Shaman
The simple fact that Dr. Hardy and his wife-nurse June were able to knit Mike's arm, mend his shattered leg, and control infection was a true testament to their skilled and dedicated care. But it was unlikely that the leg would have healed well enough for Mike to walk on it again, if it hadn't been for the inner focus he'd used during that agonizing night in the rock slide.
Anyone else would have died from massive infection, or barring that, would have required reconstructive surgery and titanium hardware to knit the bone fragments back together. Years of physical therapy might restore walking with a slow, limping gait.
But that was not Michael Peterson. He was a shaman. Modern culture does not recognize what thousands of years of wisdom had taught the healers of remote cultures: human beings are spiritual creatures, by creation and by intent—in our essence, in our souls, in our intelligence, both conscious and subconscious. As such, we human creatures have the capacity to greatly influence our physical bodies, the containers that carry us though a time which is but a short transitory moment in our existence. As a shaman, Mike held the knowledge to heal. His knowledge did not rely on the accepted tenets of western medical teachings which in fact know little and accept nothing of the ancient methods, all discounted as superstitious, ineffective or dangerous.
Michael continued to focus his energies to heal his injuries. He must soon rise from his sickbed and walk as before, easily and strong, with two good legs under him. This was a setback, unexpected and inconvenient, and it triggered a premature beginning. But he would find a way. The boy was unusually gifted and would grow quickly.
A warm afternoon breeze blew through the screened windows of the parlor and fluttered Vi's lace curtains. Mike lay on his bed. His injured leg was wrapped loosely with a gauze and linen covering. It had been a week since the accident and although he could not yet move his leg, he could sense that the shattered bone splinters were knitting together. The torn and crushed flesh was healing; the toxins were gone and new cell growth was accelerating. He would need long days of mental focus to complete his healing, and more weeks to rebuild new muscle and bone strength. But he would become whole again. His left arm was well-joined. It lay in a sling across his chest and he could feel the bone fusing, new growth bridging the fracture. He had a ravenous appetite and Vi smiled at the challenge. She kept a full bowl of beef stew and a platter of home-baked wheat bread slathered heavily with home churned butter and wild honey by his elbow.
Young Graydon went home the day after the rescue. He agreed to say nothing of it. As far as his family was concerned, he'd enjoyed an uneventful few days of fishing and camping and then returned home as a matter of course. He was catching up on chores and garden weeding, and digging out another irrigation ditch, one to carry more water into the small orchard that was recovering from its long neglect. He told his mother that he would spend the coming weekend at Brightman's ranch, helping Jim with the hay cutting.
"It's much too early but he'll need answers, and soon. He was barely coping with the dreams, and then he's faced with your accident and the trauma of rescuing you, and on top of that, he realizes that you exist, that you are the man in his dreams! That it's all real! He's a boy, for heaven's sake. All of this—this—it's just asking too much!"
Jim Brightman twisted his pipe nervously in his fingers, not noticing that it had gone cold long moments before.
"It's asking too much, expecting him to go along, staying silent without getting answers to all the questions we can see in his eyes!"
"He'll be fine, trust me. He may be young, but he's got a patient soul. As long as he can trust his own feelings and the rightness of what he senses and sees, everything will be well with him. He'll accept it in good time, as it comes. But we must be careful to let him come along at his own pace."
Mike lay back. He savored the lingering flavor of the tea. He contemplated the season ahead. He must get back on his feet and start upon the path that he and the boy would walk together.
Explosions, the stuttering rattle of machine gun fire and the cries of soldiers on both sides of him crashed in his ears. He was hungry, exhausted and filthy. The stink of his body, of those packed tightly around him, and the stench of death surrounding them nauseated him. He was cold, teeth-chattering cold. Stiff fingers could hardly grip the map in his hands and there was no feeling in his feet. Frozen mud, blood-stained snow, and the gloom of the dark forest, a nightmare scene of shattered trees and shell craters revealed in circles of light from the mortar bursts, the muzzle flashes of the guns on their line and the blinding artillary bursts on the battlefield in front.
He looked down at his arms in olive drab battle dress. A steel helmet covered his head. A man lay to his right, sprawled forward, hanging half out of his foxhole, a gaping wound in the center of his blood-soaked back. To his left, a young soldier with old eyes in a pale white face stared back at him, leaning back against the frozen foxhole mud, his rifle held across his chest, its breech open.
"Sir, I'm out of ammo. I've got nothin' left. It don't matter. Next time they come, they're gonna cut us to pieces. Ain't hardly none of us left to stop 'em, Sir."
Graydon could sense sorrow in his mind, but it was not his mind... was it? Not his eyes... were they? No time. Infinite sadness, resignation but no fear. A terrible sense of loss: too many good men lost, gone, given up as the butchers bill for a conflict that had not been their choosing, a terrible war that had been thrust upon them. This was no easy walk to victory. This moment had been reached after an endless march of frozen, agonized footsteps, each step bought with a precious life. Now the struggle might end in this frozen-mud waste for this remnant, this bloodied handful of survivors who were his platoon. They had resisted the onslaught, they had regrouped and fought again, and yet again but now they were worn down, cut down, depleted.
His eyes became two crimson orbs, blinded with agony and rage. He stared across the cauldron of Hell, seeking out their tormentors, peeling back their cover. He rose up to confront the battlefield. He flowed forward through the shattered trees and over the torn earth. The black of night shrouded him; he inhaled the stench of death, tasting it, savoring it on his tongue. He tilted his head back, his mouth gaped hugely open. He bellowed a chest-heaving, shattering howl that screamed his anguish:
"Enough! If death you seek, then I am become Death to walk among you!"
He sensed the streaking tracer rounds coming from in front and at his flanks as he flowed forward. Mines exploded in his footsteps; bullets slammed through him as he surged forward, seeking, reaching, lashing out at the terrified souls he could taste within his reach.
Terror! Absolute, disbelieving, mindless terror! He fed on it, savored it, gathered it into himself and sent it back redoubled. He hurled an onslaught of paralyzing horror over those who fought for evil—those poor, wretched innocents sent to fight and die for a satanic regime that had exploded upon an unbelieving world.
They fled: first a few, then by dozens and then by hundreds and by thousands they fled in blind panic. They threw everything aside: weapons, packs, anything that encumbered them. They fled, not understanding but knowing that they must flee or perish in some nameless horror beyond nightmares, horrors from which death would be a blessed relief. They ran. When their legs could carry them no farther, they crawled blindly with torn and bleeding fingers. They clawed their way across the frozen fields away from Hell's forest.
Lieutenant Michael Peterson came back to his senses in his foxhole. His radio crackled to life. "Regroup! Fall back and regroup! Medics are coming for the wounded!" The exhausted survivors rallied and in disbelief they stared out at the empty battlefield. Moments before, they had faced certain annihilation. Now all was silent. Nothing moved. Nothing lived.
In Graydon's dream he was a free spirit, soaring toward the light, its brilliance blossoming into a star-filled universe. His awareness flowed to it. A celestial sphere of lights expanded around him; a universe of stars and worlds lay open before him. He knew he was home.
The sense of welcome was overwhelming. He felt acceptance, a sense of belonging, of rejoining, of endless generations of family coming forward to embrace him unto themselves, filling him with exhultation. He rejoiced in his certitude of understanding: why are we here?
"This is our destiny! Our fulfillment! We love!"
A shaft of golden sunlight streamed through the window. He awakened tangled in sheets and blankets. The air was heavy with summer scents on the homestead. He heard the bell of their lead nanny goat, she and their small herd grazing along the ditch bank under his window.
The smell of fresh-perked coffee roused him and he hurridly dressed, called "Good morning" to his mother as he rushed outside to the outhouse. He returned to a platter of steaming hotcakes and melted butter waiting on the kitchen table. Dreams faded into the background as Graydon fed his hunger.
"I'm going up to Brightmans for the weekend again, if it's okay, Mom."
"That's fine. You're sure you're not imposing too much on them?"
"No. Jim asked me to come up and help; there's some repairs he'd like to make to the barn before the thunderstorms come. I can get around on the ladder better than he can."
"Well, I know they do appreciate it, son. Be careful. Not even teenagers bounce good if they fall off a ladder!" She smiled back at him and swirled the breakfast dishes through the dishpan while Graydon grabbed his small packbag.
"We were in Europe together."
Jim Brightman sat with his ever-present pipe and cup of coffee, leaning back in his chair. Graydon sat in a smaller chair between Jim and Mike, who lay with his back propped up against several pillows. He no longer wore the sling on his left arm, and his left leg, supported with a pillow under his knee, was raised in a bent position. It was almost healed now, and would soon support Mike's weight for brief periods when he began painful exercises to strengthen it. He was doing careful leg-lifting and stretching exercises on his bed. Now, he rested, and Jim told Graydon how their long friendship had begun.
"I was Mike's commanding officer, and he was one of my platoon Lieutenants. We went through a lot, maybe more than our share of action. Mike won field promotions and became my best Captain. We served together until the enemy surrendered, and Mike went home. I stayed longer. I was a career officer so it was much later when I retired. Shortly after that, Vi and I bought this ranch.
"Before he left, I extracted a promise from Mike that he would always stay in touch with us, and I promised him that he would always have a friend and a home wherever we were. I felt I owed him more than I could ever repay. Some things happened during our fight in that war that would be impossible to believe, but you might understand if I said that many of us survived when we were certain we wouldn't. I knew... somehow... that Mike had intervened in a hopeless moment, and I was grateful. It was nothing we could report or explain, but I believed and I knew that it was Mike's doing."
Mike lay silently, watching Graydon's face. Graydon kept his gaze on Jim, letting him tell the story.
"You saw... in the dream, you saw the horror of that day, in the war... ?"
Graydon heard the question in his mind. Eyes wide, he glanced over at Mike and then... composing himself and accepting the reality of the moment, he closed his eyes and nodded his head slightly to affirm his answer. Mike nodded in return. Jim continued his story:
"Not long after we'd settled in up here on the ridge, Mike showed up. He needed a little peace and a retreat he said, and some privacy. So, considering that this place is pretty removed from prying eyes, and we've got that northwest corner up in the timber, and part of it wraps back around that little knob, we scouted out a cabin site. Nobody knew it was there but us, until now. Now I'm telling you. That's where Mike makes his home, and he's usually there all winter."
Graydon pondered this bit of news. He'd never suspected that a cabin was hidden up there, but he'd never had reason to tramp through that area. Nobody else was allowed or likely to, as it was all private property. If it were truly well-hidden in the timber, a small sod-roofed cabin was not likely to be seen, even from the occasional airplane flying forest fire patrol.
"Mike has never been a hermit but he does have a strong need for solitary living. We've respected that, and we've been careful to avoid anyone knowing that somebody's up here with us. What little mail he gets comes to our post office box in town, addressed to "Bright Spirit" in care of the Brightman Ranch. The postmaster inquired about that, and Vi told him it was her custom quilting mail-order name, but she wasn't doing much with it so she didn't expect much mail.
"As for Mike's food and supplies, we just combine them with our regular shopping trips and nobody's ever noticed. If it's something unusual, I make a trip out of the valley to get it. About the most unusual thing that's happened over the last few years is a regular trip out to the precious metal dealers, but that hasn't been a problem.
"So, what do you do up there, alone all the time?" Graydon asked, turning to Mike.
"That's not easy to explain. But mostly I meditate, do some walking about in the back country, and I keep an eye on things."
"Don't you have to work? You don't need money to live?"
"No, not like you think. I'm free of that. I've got enough to get by, and I have some put away. I don't need all that much. My needs are simple."
"What I don't understand then, is all this secrecy! Is there some reason you've got to hide out? Are you in some kind of trouble?"
Mike laughed softly, and Jim sat back, smiling while he tamped his pipe for another smoke.
"No, young man, I'm not wanted by anybody, and I'm not in any trouble with the law or anyone else that I'm aware of. It's just that it's much simpler all around if I stay to myself, up here with my good friends. I'm not like most people, and I'm not comfortable in outside company. I'm very aware they're not comfortable with me. It could lead to problems if they inquired too much into my life."
That statement set Graydon's mind scurrying. Mike was pretty different in how he dressed. His hair was hanging down to his shoulders in black and grey bands, but he'd seen photos of Indians that didn't look so different. So that wasn't so different once you got used to it. He had to admit that Mike's eyes were pretty startling, their sapphire color, but that by itself... it wasn't too off-putting.
The dreams... Graydon held back out of caution. He wasn't ready to get into that until he felt more comfortable with his feelings.
"Graydon, we're very thankful that you've been quiet about this. I know it's a lot to ask, especially keeping it from your mother, but it would be much better for yourself and for us if you respected our secret." Jim puffed his pipe, blew a smoke ring, and looked steadily at Graydon.
"Yes, sir. You say there's nothing wrong behind this, and it's only that folks wouldn't understand. I feel that way, myself. Lots of folks around here think I don't fit in so well, and I don't like being too much around them. I guess we're not that different, Mike and me."
Graydon and Jim turned to the day's repair work on the barn, replacing broken boards and nailing down the loose ones. Graydon went up the ladder to refasten the galvanized roof panels that had worked loose in the wind. He steadied himself with a rope and a safety belt buckled around his waist while Jim anchored it from the other side. They finished in time to respond to Vi's call when she rang the dinner bell by the back porch door.
"It's time to talk about dreams."
Graydon stared at Mike, his mouth open.
"Close your mouth; a trickster spirit might fly in and you'd look silly trying to cough it up," Mike smiled. "You know what I'm talking about, and you recognize that I'm the person you've seen in those dreams."
"How could you... I mean, why am I... just what..." Graydon was stammering, stunned and confused. Mike had triggered a flood of confusion and emotions.
"Be calm. Steady yourself, and relax," Mike said, slowly, in a flat voice.
Graydon felt himself relax. He felt pinned, anchored by the steady gaze of Mike's eyes. He felt calmed by something in the solid timbre of his voice.
"Dreams are the realm of the spirit, the windows of the soul. They are the bridge between all the worlds of existence. There are dreams during sleep, and waking dreams. You have seen both. I have been reaching out to you, to your spirit, to enhance your awareness and to teach you that dreams are more than passing illusions.
"But my accident happened. I was caught in that slide and would have perished if I hadn't been able to call you. It was not intended that you should be called so soon, or so abruptly involved. But now that you are, we will accept it and move on. Be sure of this: you were meant to be here and now that you are, there is no going back!"
"You are to be my apprentice. Spirits willing, you will become a shaman and you will be my successor."